Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Madness not limited to cows

A story on NPR's All Things Considered this afternoon contained a mind-boggling piece of information. The background: Japan banned imports of U.S. beef after the discovery last year that a cow in a U.S. herd was infected with mad cow disease. Japan will import only beef from cows that have been tested.

The obvious solution, one would think, would be to test cows being sold to the Japanese market. Which is exactly what one beef producer, Creekstone Farms, proposed to do. Now here's the mind-boggling part: The USDA has forbidden U.S. beef producers from voluntarily and at their own expense testing all their cows and giving the results to the Japanese purchasers. Don't believe me? Check out this report from the National Council for Science and the Environment.

The FDA and the USDA feels that voluntary testing by some "is not scientifically warranted" because the tests are for "health surveillance" and cannot guarantee that the beef is safe. Note, however, that the Japanese aren't requiring the producers to guarantee anything. They are just requiring them to test the beef and provide those test results.

This government stance is obviously intended to prevent scrupulous farmers willing to pay for testing from distinguishing themselves from their unscrupulous colleagues, who want to sell possibly diseased beef for as long and for as much as possible. (Don't test, don't tell.) Certainly, if the Japanese are clamoring for tested beef, certain segments of the US population would also be willing to pay premium prices for tested beef, and would likely shun the producers who declined to test.

Isn't it nice to know whose side the Bush administration is on?

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